Showing people in various life situations in a way which does not let you perceive they were aware of being photographed, is called in the PJ jargon “a fly on the wall” photography, where the role of the fly is obviously assumed by the photographer himself.
Old Nice is made of narrow streets, cramped boutiques and small cafe’s, which usually spill out their tables in the streets. All this makes observing life easier, and it is not so difficult to disappear in the flow of tourists, each with a camera hanging from their neck.
I usually try to have a couple of small cameras at the ready, when the scope is to “catch life unaware”. A rangefinder with a 25 or 28mm lens ready in hand, and another one, or even an SLR, with a 50mm or something slightly longer around the neck. Typically, the wider lens is set on a hyperfocal.
Above, you can see my shadow with a typical set: Voigtlander Bessa R4A + 25/2.8 Biogon ZM and Leica M7 with the Summilux 50 pre ASPH.
But to be the fly on the wall is not an end in itself. The real scope for me, is to freeze a memory, and at the same time create a visual record of a scene, and a personal reminder of how a moment in the life of the person depicted looked like.
Contrary to what most of us think, our memory is not homogenous, it divides in the so called STM (short term memory), WM (working memory) and LTM (long term memory). The working memory takes care of everything that we need to remember in order to function normally performing various tasks,the LTM is a store of relationships between various memory items, and the STM gives us the immediate impression about things we are capable of recording here and now in our surrounding environment and which we are able to perceive through all senses.
While the STM, or as some call it “the immediate photographic memory” is capable of taking in a selective quantity of information, it fades away very quickly: we forget 50% of it within 3 seconds, and within 18 seconds 90% is gone. This, in my perception, is what makes pictures so appealing as a document: they are capable of freezing even a minute detail of your life for centuries. Perhaps this is another reason why the selfies have become so popular.
The photographer has also the power to choose the degree of detail necessary, and decide selectively what part of an image deserves to be exposed. Inverting the typical concept of background blur in a portrait can sometimes yield interesting outcomes.
I love to steal little spontaneous everyday gestures,like the girl here adjusting her hair, which in my eyes are infinitely more photographically appealing than fancy poses. One of the masters of this genre is the American photographer Mary Ellen Mark. I like particularly her series on bathtubs.
“Are You Real ?” – Benny Golson Quintet